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A-C falls to Penn Manor in extra-inning heartbreaker

EPHRATA - It was an epic battle of wills highlighted by an even more epic battle between two fantastic pitchers.

And as is often strangely the case in such high-quality encounters, it took something of a fluke play to bring it to an end.

Fronted by a showdown between ace lefthanders Jeff Taylor and Mitch Long, Penn Manor and Annville-Cleona battled through 9 riveting innings before Penn Manor and Taylor emerged with a 1-0 victory when Dalton Landis scored the winning from second via a wild pitch and subsequent throwing error in the bottom of the 9th of Monday night's Lancaster-Lebanon League first round playoff clash at War Memorial Field.

It may have gone on even longer had Long and Taylor not reached their 100-pitch limits after the 7th and 8th innings, respectively. Before they did  it was sheer brilliance from both.

Long yielded just four hits in seven shutout iinnings and struck out the side in his final inning to finish with nine K's. Taylor, meanwhile, fanned 11 and also struck out the side in the seventh on the way to an eight-inning four-hitter.

Yikes, Cliche alert: It was a shame somebody had toe  lose.

"I can't think of anything negative to say," said A-C coach Scott Shyda. "I'm very proud of the guys. I'm proud of the way they played and the way they hung in there. It just didn't work out for us there at the end."

Though losing pitcher Sal Biondollo threw admirably in relief of Long, and Landis earned the win by working a 1-2-3 9th after taking over for Taylor, the contest might still be going on if the aces had remained on the mound.

They were both razor sharp throughout, mixing live fastballs with sharp breaking stuff and expertly working out of whatever trouble they found themselves in.

"I'm not surprised by either of them," Shyda said of Taylor and Long. "I've watched Mitch pitch all year long, and I'm not surprised by anything he does anymore. We knew he was gonna keep us in the game, and I knew the challenge for us would be trying to get a run or two."

A-C's best chance to do that came in the top of the fourth, when Cameron Hoch led off with a single and Long reached on an error to put two on with no out. But Taylor was more than equal to the task, getting Darien Peris to ground into a force play, then striking out Ben Miller and Ben Rita to end the inning.

The Dutchmen (15-5) would also threaten in the sixth via singles by Hoch and Miller but again Taylor would escape damage.

"We just didn't get the bat on the ball," Shyda said of the missed opportunity in the fourth. "We've been working on that all year, that two-strike approach and putting the ball in play. We did  have some opportunities. It just didn't work out."

Long and Biondollo forced the Comets (15-6) to strand six runners of their own, but Landis made sure it wouldn't be seven after leading off the ninth with a single and stealing second. He then headed for third on a wild pitch and kept on going after Rita's throw to third sailed into left field. Hoch backed up the play nicely and made a strong throw to the plate, but Landis just beat it to give the Comets the hard-earned walk-off win.

"You can't play tentative," Shyda said of the attempt to get Landis going to third on the wild pitch. "You hate for the game to end that way but it did. I told the guys I can think of a lot of positives that come out of this game. We're just gonna try to focus on those and roll into districts (next week). There's no reason to hang their heads."

Penn Manor 1, Annville-Cleona 0
Annville-Cleona 000 000 000 - 0 4 1
Penn Manor 000 000 000 - 1 5 3

WP: Landis, LP: Biondollo 
SO-BB: PM - Taylor (8 IP, 11 K, 0 BB), Landis (1 IP, 0 K, 0 BB), AC - Long (7 IP, 9 K, 2 BB), Biondollo (1 1/3 IP, 1 K, 1 BB)
2B: PM - Frey
3B: PM - Gale